Why Lawns Are Costly – And What To Do Instead

Why Lawns Are Costly – And What To Do Instead

June 6, 2024

At Ask Seeds, we are passionate advocates for native plants and sustainable landscaping. While lush, green lawns have long been a staple of American yards, it’s important to understand the true costs – financial and environmental – of maintaining a pristine turf grass lawn. Let’s explore why lawns are so resource-intensive and what eco-friendly alternatives you can consider instead.

The High Price of the Perfect Lawn

Why Lawns Are Costly - And What To Do Instead

Historically, lawns originated as a status symbol among European aristocrats who could afford to dedicate land and labor to non-productive grasses. This trend carried over to America, where the rise of suburbs and invention of the lawnmower made lawns accessible to the middle class. However, the costs of this landscaping ideal are steep:

  • The average cost to seed a lawn is $0.09-$0.19 per square foot, or $592-$1768 total for an average lawn. This includes grass seed, equipment, and labor if professionally installed.
  • Americans spend over 3 billion hours a year on lawn upkeep using mowers and equipment that emit 27 million tons of pollutants annually. The EPA estimates a third of public water goes to landscaping, mostly lawns.
  • 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides are applied to lawns each year, more per acre than agriculture. These chemicals contaminate water and harm wildlife, pollinators, and human health.
  • Maintaining a nice lawn can easily cost $750+ per year in products and services like aeration, dethatching, overseeding, fertilizing, weed/pest control, mowing and watering. Costs are ongoing.

As one frustrated homeowner shared online: “I’m tired of my lawn being mid so I will soon be core aerating, overseeding with quality seed, and top dressing with soil. My lawn is 5,200 sq ft and I will be doing all this work myself and I’m looking at $750.” Many chimed in about the high expense of chasing the perfect lawn.

Why Lawns Are Costly - And What To Do Instead

The Environmental Toll of Turf Grass

Besides being a drain on time and money, conventional lawns take a major toll on the environment:

  • Lawns cover over 40 million acres, making turf grass the largest irrigated “crop” in the U.S. This monoculture offers no biodiversity or habitat for wildlife.
  • Birds and insects, especially pollinators, have declined precipitously in part due to loss of native plants and pesticide use. Lawns can’t sustain the ecosystems we depend on.
  • Fertilizer and pesticide runoff from lawns pollutes waterways, causing algae blooms and aquatic dead zones. Many common lawn chemicals have been detected in groundwater.
  • Emissions from gas-powered lawn equipment and the manufacturing of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides contribute to air pollution and climate change.

In short, the quest for an ideal lawn fights against nature at every turn, requiring massive inputs of water, chemicals, and fossil fuels to maintain an artificial landscape. The good news is there are sustainable alternatives that can save you money while restoring the environment.

Eco-Friendly Lawn Alternatives

If you’re ready to opt out of the high-maintenance lawn, here are some earth-friendly options to consider:

  1. Downsize your lawn. Convert unused areas to native plant beds, rain gardens, or pocket meadows. Even a small patch of native habitat can support pollinators and wildlife. Mowed paths can define borders.
  2. Plant native ground covers. Replace struggling lawn with low-growing native plants suited to your site conditions. Native sedges, clover, moss, thyme, and other ground covers can create an attractive, low-maintenance carpet.
  3. Change your lawn care practices. Mow high (3″+) and let clippings decompose in place as fertilizer. Avoid synthetic chemicals and opt for organic or integrated pest management methods if needed. Water deeply and infrequently.
  4. Overseed with clover or microclover. Adding clover to your lawn provides natural nitrogen, stabilizes soil, needs less water and fertilizer, and feeds pollinators. Modern microclover blends in seamlessly.
  5. Install a native meadow or prairie. Convert sunny areas to a diverse mix of native grasses and wildflowers. Though it takes a few years to establish, a pocket prairie is a low-maintenance way to restore biodiversity.
  6. Grow an edible landscape. Incorporate herbs, vegetables, and fruit into your yard for homegrown produce with curb appeal. Many edibles can be mixed into attractive potager-style gardens.
  7. Embrace “rewilding” your yard. Take a step back and allow your landscape to naturalize. Mow paths as desired but let nature take the lead. You’ll be amazed at the beauty and biodiversity that emerges.

The key is to start small and keep an open mind. Even converting a portion of your yard to native plants can make a positive impact and save you the headaches of constant upkeep. Work with nature, not against it, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthier environment, lower bills, and more free time.

Why Lawns Are Costly - And What To Do Instead

Investing in a Sustainable Future

At the end of the day, having a “nice” lawn is subjective. It’s up to each of us to decide what we value most – a manicured but resource-intensive aesthetic, or one that works in harmony with nature. As we face the realities of climate change, water shortages, and loss of biodiversity, it’s clear the conventional American lawn is not a sustainable path forward.

By shifting away from “default” turf grass to native plants and eco-friendly landscaping, we can create yards that are resilient, biodiverse, and truly connected to place. The costs of this approach are far less than the endless cycle of products and labor needed to preserve an artificial ideal. Plus, the joy and fascination of watching your yard come alive with birds, butterflies, and seasonal interest is priceless.

At Ask Seeds, our mission is to empower you with the knowledge and resources to create a landscape that benefits your wallet, your well-being, and the web of life itself. We invite you to ask questions, experiment, and share your journey as we redefine what a beautiful, successful yard can be. Together, we can plant the seeds for a greener future, one native garden at a time.

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    About the Author

    Cameron

    Melissa is a writer in Colorado, where native-grass landscaping trends and increasing concerns about water conservation sparked her interest in grass-lawn alternatives including astroturf, clover, and native grasses. Melissa focuses especially on trends in landscaping, the aesthetics of a wild lawn, the benefits of native plants for at-risk pollinators, and anti-grass legislation, advocating to leave grass-free lawns behind.

    RELATED READING

    SPECIES SPOTLIGHT

    NATIVE PLANT OF THE MONTH

    LEAFY LETTERS

    Join our Newsletter

    Become an integral part of our community of fellow plant lovers, where every edition is a botanical adventure waiting to unfold. Discover exclusive gardening tips, stay updated on the latest plant trends and answering readers questions on Ask Seeds!

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